Review – Addictive Drums 2 by XLN Audio

 

Additive Drums 2 is the successor to Additive Drums. Our reviewer thinks that XLN Audio has done a terrific job of improving on the original and explains why in this in-depth review.

by Rob Mitchell, July 2014

 

XLN Audio is based in Sweden, and they have been making music software since 2005.  The company is co-owned by mega-songwriter and producer Max Martin, and they are the makers of the successful products Addictive Keys and Addictive Drums.

In a past issue of SoundBytes, I wrote a review on SONAR X3 Producer. X3 includes the original Addictive Drums, but I couldn’t go into much detail on it, the reason being that the review was really more about SONAR itself, and not the drums included with it. There so much to cover when reviewing a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that the bundled instruments get little coverage.

When I heard XLN Audio was going to release Addictive Drums 2, I jumped at the chance to give it a full review this time around. I played the drums for over twelve years before going into the electronic production of music. As you can probably guess, a product like this is right up my alley, and so I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I was installing it.

Installation was easy, and the copy protection is by way of a product key. You just create an account on their site, use the XLN Online Installer program to connect to their website, and then download and install any products you’ve purchased after entering the key.

Addictive Drums 2 is available as a standalone instrument, and as a plugin version to load in to your DAW.  The supported formats are VST, AAX, and AU in both 32 and 64-bit.

There are different Bundle packs available on their website, and you basically get a choice of what will be included.  This way, you get what you want, and everyone is happy. To me, I really think this is a good idea. There won’t be an excess of extra drums/cymbals you didn’t really want in the first place, and so the end value is higher.

Each Bundle has a certain number of drum kits, which are called ADpaks. They also add in some MIDIpaks, each of which has lots of MIDI groove patterns ready to load. Finally, there are the KitPiece paks, which are separate drums you can add on to the ADpaks.

The parts of the bundles are available separately, and each ADpak includes the Addictive Drums 2 engine. For instance, you could just buy the Metal drum-kit/ADpak, as it already includes the AD2 engine. If you decide to add more to that drum kit later on, you can buy additional MIDIpaks and KitPiece paks from their website. 

 

The Interface

After loading AD2 in your DAW (or after running the standalone version) it will display the Gallery section. You can skim through any available ADpaks from here. It also lets you know in the upper-left corner if you have an ADpak that you have purchased, but you just haven’t installed it yet. If it isn’t installed, it will display (you guessed it) “Not Installed”.  If you didn’t buy a particular ADPak, it will mention that it is available for purchase.

At the bottom of the Gallery screen are the two ExploreMaps for that drum kit. Clicking either of those opens up a screen with presets that use MIDI patterns to show off the drum kit’s sound. A preset contains all the settings that affect the sound of the drum kit that is loaded. 

Clicking on the play button for each preset will let you preview its sound. There are additional controls that you can adjust for the levels of overhead/room microphone levels, as well as the high hat, snare and kick drum levels.

The Kit Screen

On the Kit screen, you can control the individual drums and cymbals for whichever drumkit you’re working with. In the original Addictive Drums, there were 12 slots for you to use. In AD2, there are now 18 slots available for each drum kit, and each slot can have a different kit piece loaded.  Clicking the “L” in the upper left of each slot will bring up the KitPiece Browser. Clicking the “E” button brings you to the Edit screen for that kit piece. I’ll get into more detail on the Edit screen later.

Kit pieces can be selected from any ADpak/drumkits that you have installed. After opening the Kitpiece Browser, you just click on any kit piece and click “Ok” at the bottom right to load it into your drum kit. Clicking “Cancel” will keep the original one that was loaded for that drum kit. In the lower right, you can filter what kits you can select from.

Another way to load a different kit piece is by clicking on the name at the bottom of each slot. Instead of loading the Kitpiece Browser, it just shows a list of all the drums or cymbals available. This works faster than the browser, but the tradeoff is that there’s no screenshot of the kit piece for reference.

Every slot also has Mute and Solo buttons, and a volume slider control on the right side. A link control lets you link up the snare or kick drum to another slot in the drum kit. For instance, you could layer 2 snares, beef up a kick drum with another low tom or kick drum, or whatever else you’d like. This is only for the snare and kick however, and it would be great if they could expand this to any other slot of a drum kit.

When you click on any cymbal or drum on this screen, you can preview its sound. The velocity (a soft or hard strike) depends on how low or high on the screen that you click with your mouse in the slot. Of course, using a MIDI keyboard will work fine for this, and you won’t be using the mouse as much.

There is a mixing console at the bottom of the Kit screen, Edit and FX screens. From here you have control over the panning, mix levels, and you can mute or solo tracks. There are ten mono channels that are for the closely mic’ed parts of the sound, while the Overhead and Room channels are both stereo. The Bus is stereo also, and you can send whatever channels to it that you’d like.  This lets you change the sound of certain drums or cymbals before sending them back into the mix.

At the bottom of each channel, there is a control to reverse the phase, and another to change the output for that track. This makes it easy to send certain channels out to their own tracks in your DAW. You could then apply your own effects of your choice (compression, gate, reverb, etc.), and manipulate the sound even further. If you decide to use a separate out, click the arrow at the bottom of the mix console for that channel, and choose between sending a channel to the Master channel, a Separate out, or to the Master + a Separate out.

 

Edit Screen

In the upper right is the button to get to the Edit screen. You can also get to it by clicking the name of a drum or cymbal on the mix console.

In the Kitpiece Select and Controls sections, there are controls to adjust the individual overhead and room mics for the selected kit piece, as well as panning and width. You can also change the response, pitch, tone, and adjust the volume envelope. The Insert section below that lets you add many different types of noise, EQ, compression, a transient shaper, and a tape saturation effect. These all work in a per-channel basis, but can also be used on the Master insert.

For the snare and kick drums, you have some added features. The snare has top and bottom microphones, while the kick has beater-side and front-side microphones. This allows you to get the sound from either side of each drum. Using a slider, you are able adjust the amount between the two microphones, and even add an amount of snare “buzz”. That’s the sound a real snare drum makes when the kick or toms are played, as they will vibrate the snares on the bottom of the drum.

I was a little confused at first while working with the Edit screen, and trying to switch to another kit piece. If you click the button with its name on the console, “Kick” for instance, it switches everything on the screen so you can edit anything about that kit piece.  At the top left, if you click on “Kick”, it switches only the Kitpiece Select and Controls section, and not the Inserts section below it.  After working with it for a while, it became second nature for me.


FX Screen

On top of all the other effects that are on the Edit page, you also can use the FX screen to your advantage. It has two “Delerb” units which are both identical to each other. They are a combination of both delay and reverb, hence the name. You can easily copy/paste settings from one Delerb to the other if needed. This copy/paste method also works the same way in some other areas of AD2.

The delay has controls for the delay time, (0-1000 ms, or you can use Sync), feedback, swing, and ping-pong amounts. The reverb section has four different reverb algorithmtypes, and features a good amount of controls for predelay, decay, damping amount, and swirl.  The swirl control adds a richer sound to the tail section of the reverb’s sound. Each Delerb has a slider control that lets you balance the amount between the delay and reverb.

On the right side is the EQ section which has a two-band EQ, as well as high and low pass filters. There are frequency, gain, and Q controls for the EQ. You can change their settings by clicking and dragging up or down on the displayed amount at the bottom of the graph, or dragging the points or lines in the graph itself.

Above each of the ten channels in the FX screen there are two Sends. You can use these to “send” the signal over to either of the two Delerbs.

One feature I really like is in the Output section. Here you have the ability to use either a “Pre” or “Post” setting. Since the Master out has its own insert for effects, you can have it set to “Post” (for example) so the reverb comes in after any effects the Master insert may have.    

 

Beats Screen

On the Beats screen, you can select from any of the MIDI beats that shipped with AD2 and any additional MIDIPaks you may have purchased.  There are filters near the top of the screen to easily narrow down your search to just what you’d like.  If you’ve marked certain ones as favorites, you can find them again by clicking the FAV BEATS icon.

The MIDI beats can be quickly dragged and dropped right in to your music project when used in a DAW. Using your own MIDI files is easy: just add them to the correct directory and they will be accessible from here as well.

The Grid Search lets you search for patterns similar to what is in a grid. The grid itself is like a step sequencer window, where you click on the little squares of the grid to add or take away a beat. 

The Transform function is great as it lets you change the accent of the beats and vary the velocity range of the pattern. You can also add human qualities by using an adjustable amount of random timing and varying velocity. 

 

Conclusion

Addictive Drums 2 is overflowing with great features, letting you easily manipulate any part of your drum kit. I went into much detail on many other sections of AD2, but I wanted to briefly mention a cool feature called Cloud Sync, which lets you upload presets and access them from their cloud-based system. The Snapshots feature is very handy since it lets you save the settings you like the most and recall them later with four different “snapshots”.

The Audio Recorder will record a WAV file of whatever you play in AD2. It will record up to 15 seconds, or until there is no more audio. Then you just drag and drop the file into your DAW’s project. You could use this for all kinds of things: layering sounds, reversing them, or slicing them up once they’re in the DAW … it’s all up to your imagination.

As I mentioned before, Addictive Drums 2 is available in the separate ADpaks, so you can choose just the drum kit you’d like. You can also pick from 3 different bundle formats which all include more than one drum kit, additional MIDIpaks, and Kitpiece Paks.

If you just want one ADpak, the retail price on their site is $89.95, and the bundles range from $179.95 to $449.95.

More info about Addictive Drums 2 is on their website here: http://www.xlnaudio.com/addictivedrums/

You can watch the introduction video there, and download a free demo version as well. XLN Audio has done a terrific job of improving on the original Addictive Drums. With its great sound, ease of use, and improved effects, they have put together a top notch product that is a must-have for musicians and producers everywhere.

 

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